Western NY Man Accused of $17M Ponzi Scheme Targeting Catholics

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - An 82-year-old businessman has been charged
with running a Ponzi scheme that took in at least $17 million from
a clientele gleaned largely through ads in Catholic newspapers.

Richard Piccoli of Amherst, N.Y., declined to comment after appearing in court on a federal criminal complaint charging him with mail fraud.

Investigators say he guaranteed annual returns of up to 8.3 percent on what he said were investments in discounted real estate mortgages. But according to court documents, he used the money to pay earlier investors while directing about $600,000 to himself and his children.

The government's criminal complaint says Piccoli limited his advertising to Catholic publications.

A postal inspector who posed as someone interested in investing for his elderly mother said Piccoli told him he had more than 50 priests as clients.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Buffalo says Piccoli's company had advertised in its newspaper for several years and always paid its bills.

If convicted, Piccoli could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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